Isao Harimoto

Considered the greatest ballplayer ever to emerge from Korea, Harimoto retired with a Japanese baseball record 3,085 hits and the second-highest lifetime batting average in Japanese history. He hit between 23 and 30 home runs a season until late in his career.

Several times, Harimoto attracted tentative interest from American teams who hoped that, as a Korean (though of Japanese ancestry), Harimoto would not feel bound to remain in Japan. After the 1968 season and a second batting title, he qualified for free agency, an option Japanese players rarely exercise. Though he did not declare interest in signing with other teams, he did threaten to retire if not given a 10-year bonus by the Toei Flyers, who were not financially sound. The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were rumored to be ready to make offers when Harimoto finally accepted more than double the Flyers’ initial offer. This episode, a drinking problem, and alleged lack of hustle made Harimoto a leading target of fan abuse for the rest of his career.